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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Kadal - Sheer Genius or Sheer Laziness?

When I was watching Hobbit for the first time, quite unusually, I was distracted by the cues that were not played as the background score in some of the moments in the film. The catchiest and unique of all cues in the soundtrack - The Radagast’s theme – didn’t play out in its entirety neither when Radagast is introduced nor when he lets himself chased by the enemies to buy time for the Bilbo and Co to escape. Instead of enjoying the action on the visuals, I was bothered by what is not played as the score. Needless to say, I had heard Hobbit Soundtrack at least a hundred times before the release of the film. Also, in the climax battle, when Thorin dares to have a one on one fight with the pale Orc, the music played – a theme that is extremely popular and identified as evil Ring Wraith’s theme from Lord of the Ring - was a huge distraction. Thorin is not evil; he is not someone to be feared of. And, this is not how I like to experience a film. The habit of consciously listening to the musical score while watching a movie, though I never do it deliberately, does become a distraction at times. Some movies give an intense experience, everything that makes the film perfectly blend with one another, becomes one homogenous whole creating the world and the atmosphere.

And that is how I felt when watching Kadal for the first time. Kadal background score sounds totally appropriate for the film. The score is dramatic with loud strings, evocative choirs and orchestral pieces for intense emotional moments, brass-heavy orchestral bangs for Satan and percussive cues for action. But, only when I sat down to watch the movie again, now listening to each and every cue played for the visuals, to write something about the score, did I recognize the lack of thematic integrity in some of the cues in the score. When a cue played for a scene in the initial part of the film reprises again at a certain moment later in the film, you are left wondering why that piece meant for a specific purpose in that scene, is played without any variation in here; what is the emotional or even thematic connect between these two moments. At least if it is a cue with a very well defined melody (like that main Thomas’ accordion theme), you can come up with some theory of subtext but when the piece is an incidental music - which isn’t really a theme that you hum while leaving the movie hall - but one that plays slavishly to the visuals, it is puzzling.

The theme from the scene where Bergmans pleads Sam for mercy is used again in the scene where Thomas meets Bergmans for the first time, and chooses to follow Bergmans’ path. This could be explained though. Bringing Thomas on his path is how Bergmans avenges Sam for what Sam did to him. But, I am stunned at how precisely the theme that changes throughout its course according to the visuals in the initial scene, fits perfectly to the mood and the emotions in the conversation between Thomas and Bergmans. I find it difficult to believe that Rahman composed the incidental piece having both these scenes in mind.

Placement of music is equally important as the music in a background score. Rahman couldn’t have just randomly pulled a piece from his Kadal Background Score cues folder to play in this scene. In that sense, the choice of that piece in this scene is intriguing. And it is unbelievably appropriate even as a functional cue that doesn’t aim to add any subtext or deeper meaning to the proceedings.

There is also another instance. Father Sam is beaten up by the villagers for he is proven guilty of having sex. An enraged Thomas rushes to the Church, and the musical cue that is played while Thomas is running towards the Church is again played in its entirety in the action sequence in the climax. When the piece beings to play, there is also a major shift in the visuals, and the sudden change in the music - especially the sudden rush in the music works quite well with the action stunts in the visual touching a new peak in rigor and intensity, as Bergmans fights simultaneously with both Sam and Thomas and the camera takes a dramatic 180 degree round trolley capturing all three in action.

None of it sounded odd or distracted me when I saw the film for the first time. I have Kadal many times so far and the score never bothered me while watching the film like it did while watching Hobbit. It only pinches me when the other interests creep in. It is only when I sit and listen to the score ripped (without dialogues) from the DVD of the film, and watch the film simultaneously to find connections between cues so that I can claim to have discovered something no one noticed, write about them and generally show off, that I bother about such things.

Usually, I consider such repetition of cues in the background score as a sign of sheer laziness of the composer. Or it could be that the composer was working in an urgency to finish the score within a strict deadline. But, listening to what A.R.Rahman’s score does to so many other magical moments, you can’t right away dismiss it as the case of composer’s laziness. And there is so much to talk about many nuanced themes and musical moments (Thomas’ Accordion Theme, Variations of Moongil Thottam, Satan Theme, Bea’s Theme, Sea Knows Thomas, Chiththirayae Nila flute version, Bea’s Past Theme, Magudi Theme, Bea Intro, Sam Vs Bergmans, Anbin Vaasalae Italian Reprise, Anbin Vaasalae for a New born, and Yelesa Celina Theme) in Kadal, maybe sometime later.


Aakarsh said...

I personally felt that it was a very unimpressive score. The moment he used Nenjukkulle for the lead pair, I felt he totally lost it. I can't speak for Tamil version but going by Telugu lyrics, the song doesn't suit the lead characters at all. The words and dialect in the song is not at all spoken by the lead characters. And we all know that it was a song that was shot on Manchu Lakshmi actually. Now why would mani ratnam and arrahman use a song composed for another characters for another context, use it for lead pair. The ethos are completely compromised and I felt that inserting that song in the BGM for lead characters dilutes it thematically and throws narrative integrity out of the window.

Secondly, I did not understand why Rahman had to use variations of a romantic tune - moongil thottam for action sequences. There is no connection at all between the sequences, thematically. It would have still made some sense if it was an emotional scene between lead characters. But here that herois fighting with Arjun and Moongil thottam is played briskly on cellos - something I felt very ridiculous.

I have admired many mani- arr combo BGMs. Dil se and iruvar being their best. But in kadal, I felt both touched their respective lows. Fortunately, the songs in kadal (minus Magudi) are good. But BGM wise, i felt lot of incongruity because the degree of correlation between scene intensity and score was extremely low. I felt it odd and all through the movie, i was restlessly telling my wife - "why is he messing up with bgms?".. Its surprising that rahman was careless to this extent.

Overall, while watching the movie, I felt the only guy who was doing his job well was Rajeev Menon.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Aakarash - This is exactly the problem that I was talking about with Hobbit as the case. It is our prior knowledge of what a particular piece of music is meant for in the film, that creates the distraction.

About Moongil Thottam, I quite liked its usage. This is what I am going to post on in an upcoming blog on Kadal score

"The melody of the song Moongil Thottam goes through an intriguing journey in the course of the film following closely the emotional graph of Beatrice. It sounds serene and calm on Accordion, when played on all those sweet moments between Thomas. But, once Beatrice is reminded of her troubled past and forced to come out of her ideal world, Moongil Thottam melody is also stripped off all the characteristics – peace, love, innocence – it is made of. Beatrice is not that angel anymore who just stripped Thomas off all his sins with just one carom-coin stroke on his hand. A rushing cello section plays the melody’s cancer-infected version - the sound of which is extremely disturbing and unsettling. In the climax, when finally, Bea’s fingers holds Thomas’s, the theme is brought to its barest original form giving the melody back to itself on a calm and soothing solo Piano."

Ravi Krishna said...

I think the Radagast theme was not used in the Wargs scene because the action seemed to primarily focus on Bilbo and the others' attempts to escape, rather than on Radagast's diversion. Though knowing how brilliantly Howard Shore is able to produce variations of themes, I'd have expected him to throw in a hint or two.

I read that the Nazgul theme reprise during the Azog fight was actually altered and re-recorded during post production for some reason. Perhaps that's why it is absent on the album version of that cue. It's indeed not thematically appropriate.

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Ravi Krishna - Agree. But, I wonder, for what moment in the film, Howard Shore composed the elaborately orchestrated Radagast - The brown piece. I don't remember the entire story, but I hope Radagast has some part to play in the upcoming films in the series so that we can get to hear the theme.

Unknown said...

Heard frm Someone close to Srinivas Murthy that he commented that ARR was so disappointed and frustrated at the lack of coherance of the scenes that he felt he could not build a overall theme in his music (I am not musically aware person, so pardon my jargon). But ARR also seems to have said that it is he who is probably at fault to not to have risen up to the challenge of scoring beautifully for Kadal

P.S. Suresh Kumar said...

Karthik S - Interesting, if true. From whatever Maniratnam told in "Conversations with Maniratnam" book, they seem to discuss a lot before adding music in a scene.